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Criteria for zoom.


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#1 George Ebersole

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Posted 15 October 2017 - 06:59 PM

Is there a formula for how much to zoom in on a shot prior to shooting?  So far the stuff I've been shooting over the last year has just been me eyeballing the shot until it looks right, but better looking and higher budgeted project have the camera partially zoomed in for dramatic effect.  

 

How much, how far, and what's the criteria?


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#2 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 15 October 2017 - 07:02 PM

Wouldn't that just depend on the shot? I'm not exactly sure what question is being asked here.


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#3 George Ebersole

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Posted 15 October 2017 - 09:30 PM

Lower budget projects, notably B-movies from the 70s up through the late 90s, either used lenses with a fixed focal plane or typically zoomed all the way out and positioned the camera accordingly.  Someone with more artistic training will do a test shot at various focal lengths, and usually set the camera out such that the composition of the shot requires that the operator or DP zoom in part of the way.  The effect tends to flatten the background for effect.

 

I'm not a trained DP.  I'm just a former grip/PA who started as a stage manager, so I'm wondering if there's a formula that dictates how far away to setup the camera and how far to zoom in to mitigate the distance and create a more picturesque effect.


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#4 George Ebersole

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 04:31 AM

A website full of DPs and no one knows what I'm talking about?

 

Let me ask it another way; how do you decide the focal plane of your shot?


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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 05:53 AM

I've always eyeballed it, although I've even less formal training than you. The considerations to me are:

Tighter lens and narrower look makes it more intense and personal.

Any reverse angle needs to be compatible, usually. Take notes or a cellphone photo of the monitor.

Reverse needs to be achievable given layout of the place you're shooting, acceptability of backgrounds, light, physical space, etc.

Does that omit anything?
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#6 George Ebersole

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 01:39 PM

Well, it tells me I should have had a production emphasis in college instead of trying to learn on the job.   But thanks for the reply.  

 

It's just that when I see test footage of different lenses for the same shot I wonder what the criteria for choosing one over the other.  It was always my thinking that there was some criteria (either mathematical or aesthetic) that determined how much background you wanted to show.

 

Interesting.  So you just wing it, huh?  Again, interesting.  


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#7 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 04:59 PM

A list movies also used (and still do at times) zooms, the criteria is what are you trying to say and does the shot say it.

 

"The Train" has a number of fast zoom in shots, which are worth looking at, although some may get done with a cut today.

 

"Barry Lyndon" on the other hand has slow zooms.


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#8 George Ebersole

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 05:55 PM

Well, were getting our signals crossed here, and I think a large part of that is not making myself clearer.

 

I actually don't mean zoom-shots.  To me those are artifacts of 1960s action films, and have always looked hokey to me.

 

No, what I mean what criteria do you use for how tight a shot verse how far away you have your initial setup.    A-list films always seem to have the camera set very far away, but are tight on the subject, with the result being that the background is blurred and.or compressed depending on the lens.

 

Thanks for the replies.  


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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 07:34 PM

If you're talking about how long a lens to use for tighter coverage versus moving closer on a wider lens, that's a matter of personal taste and style, though there are practical considerations too that determine which approach you take.  Same goes for depth of field, assuming you are outside and have some options as to what stop to shoot at.

 

I recently shot a scene on a hilltop with rolling hills in late afternoon sunlight and the director wanted to cover on longer lenses -- I ended up pulling some ND and shooting at stops like f/11 because the hills in the background were too soft at f/5.6, and even at f/11 at 200mm, they were pretty soft-focus but at least I still kept the landscape present in the scene, otherwise why hike up that hill in a remote location and shoot when the light was perfect on the landscape only to have it completely out of focus in the background?

 

Some filmmakers prefer working closer with wider-angle lenses because they feel that long-lens coverage feels too "distant", the camera feels too far away.  For me, it's mainly about the degree of compression I want between the foreground, midground, and background. But also the type of camera moves you are planning will lend themselves to certain focal lengths.


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#10 Keith Walters

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 08:13 PM

Somewhere Stephen Williams once posted a short video clip where the camera was being Dolly-ed in on the subject's face, whilst the zoom was simultaneously widened to precisely cancel the enlargement of the subject's face. That dramatically showed the difference between a subject shot physically close-up, and a similarly dimension-ed shot taken from further away with a telephoto lens. 

The shape of the subject's face changes dramatically, and this is one of the several mechanisms your eyes and brain use to build 3-D images.

For example,  imagine a scene where an actor walks into a restaurant and spots someone he knows at a table far across the room. The audience aren't going to be able to tell exactly what he is looking at from the initial wide shot, so you would normally cut to a close-up of the table in question. That would normally be done with a long focal length lens from across the room, because that's more or less  how the actor would be seeing it (the shape of people's heads, perspective, depth of field etc).

But if the script then calls for the actor to walk over and talk to the people at that table, for that scene you would normally move the camera up to the table and switch to a shorter focal length lens. The change in the way the people's heads are captured then immediately suggests to your brain that the actor is now close to the table.
This is the same reason tracking shots using a dolly are vastly preferable to using a zoom. With the tracking shot, there will be a whole swag of image dimension and perspective changes that suggest to your brain what is actually going on. With a zoomed shot, your brain doesn't really know what  it is looking at.

A really dramatic example of this was that in the Iron Man movies, the closeups of Tony Stark's face while he's wearing the Iron Man suit, were done with 65mm format cameras, to give that extreme claustrophobic effect, but without distorting his face too much.


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#11 George Ebersole

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 08:56 PM

If you're talking about how long a lens to use for tighter coverage versus moving closer on a wider lens, that's a matter of personal taste and style, though there are practical considerations too that determine which approach you take.  Same goes for depth of field, assuming you are outside and have some options as to what stop to shoot at.

 

I recently shot a scene on a hilltop with rolling hills in late afternoon sunlight and the director wanted to cover on longer lenses -- I ended up pulling some ND and shooting at stops like f/11 because the hills in the background were too soft at f/5.6, and even at f/11 at 200mm, they were pretty soft-focus but at least I still kept the landscape present in the scene, otherwise why hike up that hill in a remote location and shoot when the light was perfect on the landscape only to have it completely out of focus in the background?

 

Some filmmakers prefer working closer with wider-angle lenses because they feel that long-lens coverage feels too "distant", the camera feels too far away.  For me, it's mainly about the degree of compression I want between the foreground, midground, and background. But also the type of camera moves you are planning will lend themselves to certain focal lengths.

 

Dave, as usual, you can cut through my incompetent wording and get to the chase.  That's exactly what I'm asking.

 

It just seems like most of the "more artsy" films use long lenses, and I actually like that style.  Sorry for asking a naive question here, but most of the stuff I've worked on has been corporate.  

 

I'm going to experiment.  Thanks for the replies.


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